Don’t try to “go it alone”…
Some form of a local church community is necessary for the Christian to continue to grow in their faith, and truly live out the life for which we are called during our short time here on earth. However, “local church” isn’t just meeting in a building every Sunday, nor does it have to be in a building at all. What is required, though, is fellowship with- and allowing ourselves to be accountable to- other Christians.
Despite the popularity of wanting to “go it alone” in our culture today, especially when it comes to our faith journey, this is not a viable option for the Christian who desires to live to their fullest potential.
I hear many self-professing Christians say, “I believe in God, but the whole church and organized religion thing just isn’t for me.” When pressed further on the topic, reasons typically fall somewhere on the spectrum of disagreeing with one or more topics they may have heard on any given Sunday, to very serious personal hurts caused by church leaders or fellow attendees. One thing is certain, there is no “perfect church”- once you think you’ve found one then chances are you’ve ended up in a cult. Furthermore, churches are just like the rest of the world in that they are made up of imperfect people.
So are imperfect people an excuse for never seeking a community of fellow imperfect believers in Christ, and having no “local church” in our lives? Absolutely not. To have an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ, we need to be active participants in His church. Without the accountability of a church community, and mentors to learn from and be in submission to, we are unable to mature and grow in all aspects of our lives. When our only moral compass is our own wants and desires, we will undoubtedly veer off course at one time or another. Unfortunately, I know this from personal experience.
If your only church community is your own family, then that is a good start. But as a Christian parent who chooses not to attend church as a family, are you truly leading your family in their Christian faith through consistent prayer and Bible study in the home? If not, why not seek a local church community to provide some direction in this department? If so- great- but why not ease the burden on yourself a bit by finding a local church that fits your family’s tastes and provides the extra spiritual guidance you need? Without the biblical foundation a good church can provide, you and your children will look to your peers for guidance on the job and in school- and that doesn’t always work out for the best.
What to look for in a local church community
Regardless of the tradition you come from, or if you are new to this whole “church thing”, the following principles should help you find or reconnect with a local church community that grows your faith, rather than hinders it. Search for a community of Christians that want to LEARN about God, BE the hands of God in this world, and LOVE as God first loved us.
1) Get to know Jesus (LEARN about God).
First and foremost, only in knowing Jesus can we truly live an authentic faith. And the only way to know Jesus is to read his word- the Bible.
“For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”- Romans 15:4
So look for a church that reads the Bible- often. If your “local church” is simply meeting with other Christians weekly in a home, then make sure the Bible actually opens each time you get together and it doesn’t just become a social hangout event. If the Bible is never opened, then something has gone astray.
While there’s various different belief systems in our churches today, make it a requirement to find somewhere that exalts Jesus as God- both Lord and Savior. You might be thinking, “well duh”, but there are plenty of houses of worship that label Jesus as “a really good teacher” and “a significant person in history” and just leave it there. Jesus is to be a stumbling block to those who don’t believe (1 Cor 1:23)- not made into some watered down “concept” in an effort to make him acceptable to every worldview.
2) Impact the Community (BE the hands of God).
“Faith, if it has no works, is dead…”- James 2:14
Without going off on a “grace vs. works” theological debate, allow me to offer that this verse can be simply paraphrased as follows: if your life has truly been changed by Jesus, then do something to change other people’s lives as well. Use your spare time to look for activities within the community that serve others. Volunteer opportunities abound, and a local church or community group has no excuse to stay holed up inside and out of touch with the hurts of the world.
While Christians should not be “of the world”, we still must be “in the world”- and reflect Christ’s compassion with our daily activities. So look for a church or group that goes out into the world, as Jesus commands us, rather than secludes itself within its own walls. Christianity should offer an alternative to today’s culture- a “counter culture” that people see as relevant and able to meet their needs- not isolate itself as some exclusive and elusive subculture.
3) Be Compassionate (LOVE as God first loved us).
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”- Matthew 9:36.
The word “compassion” is of course very subjective in our culture. One person’s compassion is likely different than another person’s compassion. Speaking the truth, in love, likely will not seem compassionate to those who deny their need for Christ. But as Christians, we must seek to be compassionate within a world that many times doesn’t want to hear what we want to share with them. However, if you’ve found yourself in a church or community of believers that has lost any compassion for those that disagree with them, then perhaps it’s time to look elsewhere.
A final word
I considered adding links to this article of churches in the Bangor area that meet the criteria I outlined out above- then I thought better of it. I realized I would only offend people in the process of unintentionally (and intentionally) leaving out many local gathering places. However, while it was recently reported that Maine is the “least-religious” state, there is a definite undercurrent reversing that trend as people search for authentic Christian fellowship based on organic learning, serving, and loving- as opposed to being hindered by the tired traditions and over-the-top legalism of yesteryear.